How important is FTP for MTB

How important is the FTP datapoint for determining fitness for cross country MTB? From my experience, I have a .5 w/kg less than some of my competitors, yet still manage to beat them consistently in races. I feel that I struggle with sustained efforts like FTP tests, but when I have slight breaks like the downhill in XC I can perform much better throughout the race than my FTP indicates. By the way, I have 4w/kg at 60 kg.

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Im not a MTBiker but I would think skill would outscore FTP. My only experience is gravel v road biking. On the road I out perform my mates (Ive probably got a higher w/kg) but off road they’ve got the skill and out perform me.

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I agree that skill definitely plays a huge part in MTB, however, because I only started biking 2 and a half years ago, my skills are dwarfed by the other competitors who have raced for years, so I feel like they may actually have an advantage skill wise as well.

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This is completely conditional on the nature of the courses. MTB could mean also a nasty 1.5h climb….and you’ll be toasted.

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I’d say ftp as a raw number is far less important in xc than in a road race or time trial, but that doesn’t mean it is of no importance.
In mtb, technical ability can compensate for a lower power output. For instance, I am far stronger than a couple of my buddies, but they came from a moto x background and have far greater handling abilities than I do. When we ride we end up fairly even because what they lack in raw power they make up for in “free speed”. What I lack in the “free speed” department I make up for with raw power.
In a race it can come down to course type. If it’s a technical course you can have an advantage. Some of our series races are very “roadie” courses that favor those with a greater power output.
All that to say that if you already have a high level of technical ability, then adding more horsepower will make you even faster.


I think that the skills is not really that important; most courses are on fairly intermediate trails, so its really hard to get an advantage from technical skills. Downhills are also so short relative to race duration, you can’t gain that much time. There are the odd race that is technical, but rarely is that creating major issues for most riders.

My personal experience is that the number one ability is being able to recover from explosive efforts. For example, powering up a steep section of a climb at VO2 max, then riding threshold for the next 10 minutes. These efforts are so brutalizing.

This is definitely colored by my experience: I am an above average descender and technical rider, and have a higher than average FTP. But I just struggle to maintain the pace after those HARD efforts.


I do feel that skills can be very important especially in pro level races, however I agree that skills can be less important depending on the course. For the courses I race, they are relatively easy, because I race in NICA which has varying ranges of skill involved.

I definitely agree that explosive recovery is very important. My first Varsity race, we raced up a steep gully with big rock step ups near the very beginning and I was cooked after that.

Now you have to figure out all those other things that affect performance. FTP is up there. But it’s not the only way to get faster. Especially at your age. :muscle:

FTP doesn’t win races. Average speed does.


I ride MTB XC and “skills” does have an impact. Not just on the downhills but maintaining speed and “using” the trail.

If you have a power meter check the spikes when you accelerate out of a corner, you can easily get 500w+ for 5 secs getting back up to speed. Doing this doezens of time in a race definately has an impact.


FTP is super important but so is skills and pacing strategy. I guarantee that anyone who has raced enough, not matter the discipline, will have beaten someone with a higherr FTP than them and at the same time, you would have been beaten by someone with a lower FTP.
Don’t over think this FTP number because that’s all it is, it doesn’t define us and a lot of the time it’s not even accurate due to the way people measure it.

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When I first started MTB racing I was blown away by guys that I could drop easily on the road. MTB racing on twisty singletrack courses is more about skill than FTP. I know from experience.

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As the races get longer, it increases in importance. Also depending on where you live and how long your typical climbs might be. If they’re just 2 to 3 minute climbs with only about an hour total duration your short power is a better determining factor. But in marathon it is very important.


IMO, it’s Repeatability, cornering and momentum preservation that usually matters most. At least at my level, on relatively flat courses. It is truly amazing how much time can be made by someone who can corner well Vs someone who doesn’t. If you can gain a quarter to half second a turn x numbers of turns in a race….it can add up quick. Also for reference, based on experiences coaching NICA team….


Ftp w/kg is is a good way to know which category you should race in. But as others said, most mtb courses aren’t a TT. Most of your riding is vo2 max stuff, very spiky. In lower categories, a big ftp beats skills hands down. When you race open/cat1, that’s when skills starts to matter more

It’s hard to know what others around you are truly using as their FTP, or weight. They may not be as far ahead in that metric as you think.

That said, I think XC racing 90minutes or less, us a lot of VO2 efforts and repeatability, especially the closer you get to the front.

You likely have better natural (maybe trained?) repeatability.

Skills can be massive, but very much depends where you race.

FTP is a good metric for aerobic fitness. And even if you don’t actually ride at FTP, a high FTP will help you recover quicker from all those little punchy efforts. So training to bring your FTP up is useful, even in MTB, though you wouldn’t want to make it your only training focus.


FTP gets more important the longer the courses get. I’m just repeating others but learning how to maintain momentum on a trail is a huge component to XC speed. I beat higher w/Kg riders on certain courses, but any course with long sustained climbs always favors the raw w/Kg rider IME.

Shorter and punchier course are favored by me. I can hit higher raw watts for shorter periods compared to my competitors and have learned to save momentum both actual momentum and psychological momentum during a race. Long extended climbs aren’t my thing and if I sign up for a race like that I use all my training time preparing to improve my w/Kg.

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